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Youth work in Norway has its origins in the voluntary sector from the mid-19th century onwards, particularly represented by the missionary, temperance, and labour movements. The expansion of the welfare state following WW2 into fields that had previously been run by voluntary organizations included areas such as health and social work, culture, sports, and recreation. In a 1949 bill to parliament, principles of state support for youth work were described primarily as facilitating organisational life and youth associations as the mainstay of youth work. Annual government grants for youth work were allocated to youth organisations and the National Youth Council [Statens Ungdomsråd], which was established in 1953, played a key role as an adviser to the government on youth policy issues and in allocating funds for youth work.
The Committee on public support for youth organisations [Komiteen for offentlig støtte til ungdomsorganisasjonene] which presented its recommendation in 1959 argued against strong public sector involvement in the implementation of youth work on the grounds that it would stifle the democratic potential of youth organisations and young people’s leisure/recreational time activities. However, as in the rest of Europe as well as in the USA free/unproductive time among “unorganized” youth was increasingly considered problematic and there was a concern about youth and crime, particularly in urban areas. It was in this context that the first municipal recreational youth club was established in 1953 in Oslo.
In 1968, a committee was set up to examine youth work. The committee presented his recommendation in 1971. The committee's principle assessment was that the public had a duty to facilitate conditions for a better leisure/recreational environment, and that young people had a right to access varied activities and environments. The report also contributed to a gradual and substantial shift in the understanding of public responsibility for young people's free time - from prevention based on an at times negative view on youth as potential delinquents into service, facilitation, and non-formal learning to harness young people’s potential and resources.
While there is no official definition of youth work, collective terms like “leisure/recreational clubs/houses” and “open meeting places for youth” are used to describe the areas in which youth work is exercised. The Government’s 2015 plan on child and youth policy initiatives characterises the informal learning that occurs through municipally supported leisure/recreational time activities and open meeting places for youth as crucial for young people’s personal and social development. Youth work is informed by the needs of young people and their participation, and through spaces where they engage with competent and caring adults. In addition, open meeting places for youth often function as spaces for the exercise of, and participation in, cultural activities.